The OpenJDK Transition: Things to know and do

5 min read

At this point, it should not be a surprise that a number of major changes were announced in the Java ecosystem, some of which have the potential to force a reassessment of Java roadmaps and even vendor selection for enterprise Java users. Some of the biggest changes are taking place in the Upstream OpenJDK (Open Java Development Kit), which means that users will need to have a backup plan in place for the transition. Read on to better understand exactly what the changes Oracle made to Oracle JDK are, why you should care about them and how to choose the best next steps for your organization.

For some quick background, OpenJDK began as a free and open source implementation of the Java Platform, Standard Edition, through a 2006 Sun Microsystems initiative. They made the announcement at the 2006 JavaOne event that Java and the core Java platform would be open sourced. Over the next few years, major components of the Java Platform were released as free, open source software using the GPL. Other vendors – like Red Hat – then got involved with the project about a year later, through a broad contributor agreement which covers the participation of non-Sun engineers in the project.

This piece is by Rich Sharples, Senior Director of Product Management at Red Hat , on what Oracle ending free lifecycle support means, and what steps users can take now to prepare for the change.

So what is new in the world of Java and JDK? Why should you care?

Okay, enough about the history. What are we anticipating for the future of Java and OpenJDK? At the end of January 2019, Oracle officially ended free public updates to Oracle JDK for non-Oracle customer commercial users. These users will no longer be able to get updates without an Oracle support contract. Additionally, Oracle has changed the Oracle JDK license (BCPL) so that commercial use for JDK 11 and beyond will require an Oracle subscription. They do also have a non-proprietary (GPLv2+CPE) distribution but the support policy around that is unclear at this time. This is a big deal because it means that users need to have strategies and plans in place to continue to get the support that Oracle had offered.

You may be wondering whether it really is critical to run OpenJDK with support and if you can get away with running it without the support. The truth is that while the open source license and nature of OpenJDK means that you can technically run the software with no commercial support, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. There are too many risks associated with running OpenJDK unsupported, including numerous cases of critical vulnerabilities and security flaws. While there is nothing inherently insecure about open source software, when it is deployed without support or even a maintenance plan, it can open up your organization to threats that you may not be prepared to handle and resolve.

Additionally, and probably the biggest reason why it is important to have commercial OpenJDK support, is that without a third party to help, you have to be entirely self-sufficient, meaning that you would have to ensure that you have specific engineering efforts that are permanently allocated to monitoring the upstream project and maintaining installations of OpenJDK. Not all organizations have the bandwidth or resources to be able to do this consistently.

How can vendors help and what are other key technology considerations?

Software vendors, including Red Hat, offer OpenJDK distributions and support to make sure that those who had been reliant on Oracle JDK have a seamless transition to take care of the above risks associated with not having OpenJDK support. It also allows customers and partners to focus on their business software, rather than needing to spend valuable engineering efforts on underlying Java runtimes.

Additionally, Java SE 11 has introduced some significant new features, as well as deprecated others, and is the first significant update to the platform that will require users to think seriously about the impact of moving from it. With this, it is important to separate upgrading from Java SE 8 to Java SE 11 from moving from one vendor’s Java SE distribution to another vendor’s. In fact, moving from Java SE distributions – ones that are based in OpenJDK – without needing to change versions should be a fairly simple task. It is not recommended to change both the vendor and the version in one single step. Luckily also, the differences between Oracle JDK and OpenJDK are fairly minor and in fact, are slowly aligning to become more similar.

Technology vendors can help in the transition that will inevitably come for OpenJDK – if it has not happened already. Having a proper regression test plan in place to ensure that applications run as they previously did, with a particular focus on performance and scalability is key and is something that vendors can help set up. Auditing and understanding if you need to make any code changes to applications is also a major undertaking that a third-party can help guide you on, that likely includes rulesets for the migrations. Finally, third-party vendors can help you deploy to the new OpenJDK solution and provide patches and security guidance as it comes up, to help keep the environment secure, updated and safe.

While there are changes to Oracle JDK, once you find the alternative solution that is best suited for your organization, it should be fairly straightforward and cost-effective to make the transition, and third party vendors have the expertise, knowledge, and experience to help guide users through the OpenJDK transition.

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